In the past few weeks I have learned more about our neighbours than I have in the decades we’ve lived here. All those years ago when we moved into our “new house” – excited – curious – exhausted …
We were dismayed to find our neighbours didn’t share our excitement.
We found out later that many had moved to this area from the East End (of London) – where they were brought up with open doors – neighbours wandering in-and-out day and night – where everyone knew everyone’s business – where the “crafty cockney” had little privacy. And now, being in a nice semi-detached in a nice prosperous little town …
Their doors being locked (and minimal eye-contact) was their freedom.
Over the decades neighbours have come and gone. We are now of the small number that have been here forever – yet that reticence continues: a cursory nod – a polite hello – the odd word with a select few … But in the main we all keep to ourselves as it ever was.
Apart from these past few weeks.
When we seem to have new time to sit and stare. To stand and chat. To share a little of ourselves because we can. Why it has taken this pandemic for that reserve to thaw is beyond me.
What made me chuckle about the recent “lockdown protests” in the USA was a lady in her car with a homemade placard proclaiming America’s greatness with the text “We need a haircut!” (as she lowered her head to show the cameras her roots). The global death-count pales into insignificance when set against the need to colour one’s roots!
God, neighbour, self.
Love. We aren’t very good at Love I reckon. “Self” particularly. And for me that’s where this Love Triangle begins – and so lovingly for most. Love without condition even in the womb. Even as we exit the womb. Even as we are totally dependent and self-centred. Even as we are without sin (although that’s another story).
And then “conditional” creeps in.
The terrible twos (that lasts a lifetime for some). The withdrawal of unconditional (as we know it) replaced with “be-good-and-share” – the inevitable initiation into transaction.
Where good behaviour is rewarded with love (or bribes) and “bad behaviour” sees love withdrawn (as a sanction). And so the process of “never being good enough” begins. And continues as we realise that others have what we don’t – but now we aren’t allowed to go and take those things. And continues as we learn that some are more popular than us – and so we start grading ourselves in the pecking-order of life. “Neighbours”. Who are part of the pecking order – a bigger house, bigger car, better holidays, children with better grades, who wear better clothes … And then “God”. A factual teaching that God is always watching me – seeing my every “sin” – counting all my “transgressions” – all the “bad things” I do … God is perfect in every way I am not – so perfect he was born AND died SIMPLY to save ME from MYSELF!
And we wonder why we struggle with Love Without Condition?
For decades I lived that pecking-order – that sense of my never being good enough.
Only in the past few years – and particularly since going bible-blind – does “the greatest of these” make absolute perfect sense: sense enough to reject the rest – and perfect enough to accept I might be wrong (yet remain content in knowing that Love isn’t about being right).
Love isn’t about what I was taught and believed (and passed on). Love is about something bigger AND something smaller AND about me. Love is the same no matter whether I OR you OR God are bigger-smaller-right-wrong …
(and isn’t all the rest).
Right now I know we can each come out of this with something more than we began.
More than just our roots nicely coloured. More than just a room full of toilet rolls. More than the same mask we entered wearing.
Because if we don’t – that isn’t “freedom” – nor “being great” ….
That is choosing the very same prison we created before all of this. A prison in which love is only conditional and always transactional. A prison in which I am saved or not. A living in which we are so far from “the greatest of these” as to not understand it all.
(let alone be it right now)
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